This article was originally published at Advocates for Truth
In recent years, people have questioned whether it is right to be patriotic, especially if one’s leader has policies or personal characteristics they vehemently disagree with. This has been especially true in the United States as our country has grown more politically polarized. Americans seem to have fewer values in common with one another, including whether or not to be patriotic. One example of this has been the controversy over athletes kneeling during the national anthem. While this article won’t address that particular controversy, it brings to light the various definitions of patriotism. What does patriotism mean? Should Christians be patriotic?
Definition of Patriotism
Patriotism can be defined in a number of ways. Encyclopedia Britannica defines patriotism as a “feeling of attachment and commitment to a country, nation, or political community.” Others simply define it as a love of one’s country. In the broadest sense, it could be compared to storge love, which C.S. Lewis describes as an affection which comes from what is “familiar” or “expected” to you—your home, family, community, and even your country. For the sake of simplicity, the definition of patriotism that this article will use and address is “a love of one’s country or homeland.”
What Does the Bible Say?
The Bible doesn’t directly address the subject of patriotism. However, there are several verses where we can gain an understanding of this from a Christian perspective.
First, we must have a proper view of nations and government. In the book of Acts, Paul tells the Greeks in Athens that God, in his sovereignty, made the different nations so that they might seek and find God (Acts 17:26-27). Likewise, in Romans 13:1-7, Paul tells the Roman Christians that they are to submit to and honor the governing authorities since they serve as God’s agents to maintain good and punish evil. Peter also commands the same in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Therefore, as a general rule, Christians should have a positive attitude towards the institution of nations and government. We should give proper honor to those who serve in such roles and pray for them (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Next, Christians need to understand the kingdom of Christ. Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36) When Jesus came to dwell among us two thousand years ago, he did not come to establish a political or earthly kingdom like many of the Jews expected. He came to purchase our redemption from sin with his life (Mark 10:45). As Revelation foretells, when he comes again, it will be as a ruling, sovereign king, and all nations will bow down to him (Philippians 2:9-11, Revelation 11:15). However, as of now, Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual one, not an earthly one.
Lastly, Christians need to have a proper view of their identity. In this world, we can have multiple identities based on our religious beliefs, relationships, gender, job, race, nationality, political beliefs, etc. While such identities are natural to develop, they are not to be given equal weight. Like Jesus, our ultimate identity as Christians is heavenly, not earthly. We are called “sojourners” and “exiles” while here on earth (1 Peter 2:9-12), which points towards our true home being in the eternal kingdom of our Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). The fact that our true home is not here on earth is why we are called “ambassadors” for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are supposed to be representing Christ’s heavenly kingdom to the earth with the goal of reconciling them to God.
The Bible even uses the specific language of citizenship and national identity to emphasize this point. Philippians 3:20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” The author of Hebrews also recounts how even those of faith in the Old Testament were “seeking a homeland” and that “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:13-16). This same theme continues in 1 Peter 2:9-10 where Peter addresses Christians as “a chosen race” and “a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” What this means for us today is that our most important identity is not in what country we are born into or live in (a kingdom of earth) but in being a son and daughter of the most high God and his heavenly kingdom (John 1:12-13, Romans 8:14-17, Galatians 3:26-28).
However, this does not negate the fact that we are born into a certain time, place, and culture and that this comes with responsibilities to steward wisely. As God commanded the Israelites, so are we commanded to seek the good of our neighbor and the city where we dwell (Jeremiah 29:7, 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Matthew 22:39). Additionally, we have the interesting example of Paul in Acts 22:25-29 where he identifies himself as a Roman citizen. Although Paul does not necessarily express pride in his citizenship, he uses the advantages of his Roman citizenship as a means to advance the gospel.
How Should Christians Think About Patriotism?
Based on what we have observed in Scripture, it seems permissible and perhaps encouraged to be patriotic so long as it is properly understood. To love one’s homeland or place of birth is to enjoy the good gifts which God has given through the nations and governments which he has established. It is both natural and good to develop a love and affection for the peoples, places, cultures, and governments which God has used to bless you through his common grace.
What remains of paramount importance is that our love for God governs our love of country and that our identity in Christ supersedes any political or national identity. We must remember that we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39). If our love of country ever conflicts or competes with these two commands, that is perhaps a sign that we have invested too much of our identity in earthly things that will pass away. It is our love for God and for our neighbors which should produce and govern our love of country, not the other way around. Only then can good and healthy patriotism find its fullest potential. As Russell Moore stated, “We can be Americans best when we’re not Americans first.”
Christians in the United States should also be aware of how patriotism might look differently around the world. We can take for granted the fact that we live in a country that is relatively good and free when compared to other parts of the world. How would you tell a Christian born and raised in North Korea that they should view patriotism? It is important to recognize that loving the people, places, culture, and government of one’s homeland does not necessarily entail support for the people, places, culture, and government of one’s homeland. A rightly ordered patriotism should never lead us to advocate for or ignore the evils and injustices perpetrated by one’s own government or which are embedded in the culture. To love what a nation is doing when it is contrary to God’s principles disobeys what is written in 1 Corinthians 13:6: “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.”
Patriotism, defined as a love of one’s country or homeland, is certainly permissible for Christians and can be a natural outworking of our thankfulness towards God for the people, places, cultures, and governments which demonstrate his goodness and common grace in our lives. However, Christians should be cautious against making patriotism, national identity, or political identity into an idol. All earthly kingdoms will one day come to an end. Ultimately, our identity is in the person of Jesus Christ and our citizenship is in his heavenly kingdom.